My boyfriend and I celebrated our seven-year anniversary yesterday. When people find out how long we’ve been together, they typically react in one of three ways.
- When are you getting married?! (For the answer, click here.)
- Why aren’t you married yet?! (For the answer, please take a good, long look in your nearest mirror and repeat after me: “What others do in their lives is their business, and not mine. I must stop being rude!”)
- Oh, jeez, good for you — I couldn’t do it!
To some, seven years seems like nothing. To others, seven years seems like an eternity — perhaps in a bad way (in that you don’t want to be tied down, which is totally fine), perhaps in a good way (in that you hope to some day also be with someone for seven years). Regardless, I’ve gotten questions from people asking how we’ve made it work for so long. So here are a few things that have helped is make our relationship successful.
1. Like each other. I don’t know about you, but liking the person I’m with is pretty high on my list of qualities I look for in a guy. Then again, my list is so old it still includes “must be in a boy band.” Still, I do think this seemingly obvious factor needs to be part of any successful relationship. I don’t care how cute your partner is, how rich they are, or how closely related to Oprah they may be, if you don’t like them, it won’t work. Period.
2. Talk it out. Bill and I talk about everything. There is literally no subject that’s off limits. That works for us, but may be a little extreme for others. Regardless, talking about things — little things, like something funny that happened to you at work, or big things, like your ultimate life dreams — is really important. Because we’re constantly changing, there are always new things to learn about the person you’re with. I may have told Bill when we first started dating that I wouldn’t settle for anything less than a sky-rise apartment in New York City with a beautiful view, but that’s not how I feel now, so sharing my new ambitions feels fun and exciting.
3. Be open and honest about the things that matter to you. People will try to tell you that you “must” talk or not talk about certain things, that you must agree on this or have the same ideals when it comes to that. Those people are projecting. What matters for them is not going to matter for you and your partner. Religion might be super important to them. For you, it could be the television line-up you watch on Thursdays. (NBC comedy block or bust!) Know what matters to you, and then talk about it. But this means…
4. Know what you want. Most relationships require you to know some things about yourself. It’s hard for your partner to know what you want not just out of a relationship, but in life, if you also don’t know. I’m not saying you need to have this grandiose plan for your life from the moment you make things official till the day you die. Sometimes knowing what you want is as simple as just knowing you DON’T know what you want.
5. When fighting, no name calling, low blows, or saying things you can’t take back. Look, you’re human, so you’re going to fight. It’s going to suck. Know that right away, accept it, and get over it. There’s no such thing as a “perfect” relationship and there certainly is no such thing as two people who so seamlessly get along that they never disagree. But fight right. Don’t go for the jugular when you’re arguing. Not only is it impossible to take back whatever it is you said, but — if all goes well — you’ll be talking again soon, and you’ll feel pretty silly afterward. So that you don’t get to this point, I say…
6. Be aware of the kind of fighter you are. Then do whatever you need to do to calm down. This is kind of a weird one, but stick with me. Bill is a super level-headed guy. This prevails even when he’s angry. He would much rather calmly discuss an issue immediately and resolve things. Me? Not so calm. When I’m angry, I’m mean, I’m vicious, and I’m cold. My only goal at whatever moment is to cut a person in half with whatever words I can muster. It’s an ugly quality in myself, but it’s something I reign in by:
- acknowledging it
- recognizing when I’ve reached that point
- letting others know it’s not them, it’s me
- getting space. Lots and lots of space.
I usually need to go off by myself somewhere and spend time alone. It helps to calm me down and gives me time to unpack my thoughts, then come at the issue from a different perspective. Now, seven years later, Bill and I know how to handle fights as they arise. It doesn’t necessarily make it less difficult to fight, but it DOES make it so that we don’t say or do things we regret. I can’t emphasize this enough — give yourself time to cool down. You’ll thank yourself later!
7. Don’t compare yourself to others. It doesn’t matter if your friends from high school got engaged six months after dating. It doesn’t matter if they have 3 kids already, and you’ve only got a cat. Your relationship is not their relationship, so trying to make comparisons can make you feel overwhelmed.
8. Be friends. Friendship is really important, and such a key part of a successful relationship. You should totally want to hang out with your partner! Part of being friends means respecting one another (including a partner’s need for space) and not badmouthing one another behind their back. You wouldn’t do that to your BFF, right? Don’t do it to your SO, either. (Venting is okay, but always try to step back and get some perspective.)
9. Be kind. Your relationship after 10 years won’t be exactly the same as it was when you first started dating, but I’m a firm believer that partners should always be kind to one another. Small gestures add up. In the first few months, things like little Post-It notes left for you to find around the house might be a way your partner shows he or she loves you. A few years into a relationship, it may be that your partner always offers to run to the grocery store because they know you hate it. Gestures may change, but the meaning behind them lasts.
10. Laugh. Life’s way too short to take yourself so seriously. The best thing Bill and I do together is laugh — not just about things intended to be funny, but about our inside jokes we’ve developed over the years, silly references no one else gets, and (most of all) ourselves.
- Ten Ways to Restore Relationships (trendmastablog.wordpress.com)
- Ten Positive Ways to Make Your Relationship Better (psychologytoday.com)
- Maintaining That Relationship (funofflirting.wordpress.com)